Saturday, 31 December 2011

Coin shopping in Sri Lanka

The enchanting island of Serindip is steeped in history. Ancient Buddhist kingdoms thrived since the ages before the Roman empire. The island was a battleground between Tamil invaders from the Indian subcontinent and local Sinhalese kingdoms. Later, a successive wave of colonial powers, Portugese, Dutch and finally the British adds to the island's history. Coinage follows the comings and goings of Kingdoms, invaders and colonial powers. Sri Lanka therefore has a most interesting coinage history.

My first stop was Galle, with a magnificent Fort built mainly by the Dutch. I soon realize that places that sells coins are inadvertently also gem stores, as Sri Lanka is a big producer of gemstones. There are also vendors near the lighthouse and popular spots near the fort walls. Most were selling really worn out British and Dutch era copper coins, and tried to overcharge for the silver coins 

Eventually, I only managed to pick up an 1895 Ceylon Queen Victoria 50 cents from a small time gem-seller operating out of his house's front porch.

1895 Ceylon 50 cents. KM#96. Mintage: 450.000.

Next stop: Colombo. For coins, you got to head out to Chatham Street in the Fort district of downtown Colombo. Again all these shops have gems as their main business and seem to deal with coins as a moonlighting business. I went into three shops here. Hussain, from The Jewel Shop finally offered something that i was consciously looking out for, a British Rix Dollar. Unfortunately, it was a bit over my budget. I did get from him two nice and cute AU/UNC Ceylon 1/4 cent 1870 coins. From another shop down the road, i got a 1929 Ceylon 50 cents and a random 1935H North Borneo 1 cent coin that they had. The shop has a lot of nice clean Polonnaruwa era coins, but not knowing anything about it, I refrained from picking any of it. At another shop called Heaven's Gate, down through a tiny alleyway, I picked up a 1/2 Stuiver 1815 coin.

1870 Ceylon 1/4 cent. KM#90. Mintage: 200.000.

The next destination that I picked up coins was at Kandy. A real interesting shop is 'Kithsiri Antiques', Castle Lane in the central business/market area of Kandy. The shop was on the second level of a row of building along a small lane. The shop attracts a lot of business from people selling their silver. The room was packed with antiques and has a very good selection of local coins. I managed to pick up a 1815 1 stuiver and a 1802 1/48 rix dollar coin. Part of the shop was a small room, where a silversmith was melting silver.

1815 Ceylon 1/2 Stiver. KM#80. Mintage: 2.400.000

1815 Ceylon 1 Stiver. KM#81. Mintage: 2.800.000

 1802 Ceylon 1/48 Rixdollar. KM#75. Mintage: 2.700.000

Finally, I picked up coins was from one of the many vendors in Anuradhapura. I thought I should pick up some medieval Sri Lanka coins, and I randomly did that. The two coins that I purchased by the Kuttam Pokuna (twin ponds) on the sprawling grounds of the Abhayagiri Monastery was later identified to be  massa coins from the reign of King Vijayabahu IV (1271-1273) and King Bhuvanaikabahu I (1273-1284).

Left Column: Rev. and Obv. faces of a massa coin from the reign of King Vijayabahu IV (1271-1273). Right Column:  Rev. and Obv. faces of a massa coin  from the reign of King Bhuvanaikabahu I (1273-1284). 


Saturday, 10 December 2011

Colony of Singapore Annual Report 1955

I picked up this copy at the AOTO shop at Tanglin Shopping centre. This series of books summarizes the year's events, policy changes ...etc... and statistics on all sorts of things like population, trade, education, birth rate...etc....
From 1959 onwards, after Singapore gained self-rule, this series became known as the 'State of Singapore Annual Report'. And sometime since independence, it is simply known as the Singapore year book. Since 2008, it seems that they have stopped printing hardcopies, and only online versions are available.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Tan Kok Seng's Son of Singapore & Man of Malaysia

I picked up a couple of gems at Bras Basah Complex yesterday. I got a copy of a first edition of 'Son of Singapore' (Heinemann 1972) as well as the first reprint edition of 1974. I also got  it's sequel 'Man of Malaysia'.
Each of the book was priced at about $7.50. Right after my purchase, the book store owner began removing the price tags for the remaining  'Son of Singapore' on the shelf. When I asked him if he is increasing the price, he replied yes, and is intending to up the price to $18.00 per book. I guess I just spoiled the market.   
I have been looking for Tan Kok Seng's 'Son of Singapore' for a while. My family used to have this book and I remember reading this book again and again as a kid. Unfortunately, over the years, somehow it got lost or was thrown away. Nowadays, this book is out of print and hard to find.

In his simple language, TKS tells of his life story, and along the way, also told the story of Singapore from WWII till the 1950s and 60s. It is surprising that this gem of a book is out-of-print. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Land between two Expressways - Hong Kah

Date: 29th Oct. 2011
Distance: 13.8km 

Our party of 22 started at about 8am from Bukit Gombak MRT station. We entered the Hong Kah restricted area by a monsoon drain right opposite Hong Kah Primary School. A short walk through the bushes led us to a dirt track that is probably used by army vehicles for their training. The path leads up to a hillock, the highest part of the area where glimpses of the housing estates around can be caught. Several of the dirt tracks about the area on the right side of the monsoon drain criss-crossed each other. There were hardly any people in the area. We only came across an elderly jogger and a driver resting in his excavator. It seems virtually all traces of the human habitation, kampungs, buildings has been eradicated. The only buildings left are SAF training sheds. The vegetation is lush but not dense, nice sprawling fields of grass and shrubs abound, with handsome rain trees dotting the landscape. Eventually, we went onto Jalan Lam Sam, after taking some detours we unintentionally ended up on Jalan Lam Sam, and before i knew it, we were almost upon the exit to Old Jurong Road (OJR). I had originally planned to head west from Jalan Lam Sam, and exit near the old Jurong School, instead, the south going Jalan Lam Sam led us prematurely onto OJR. We walked along OJR looking for an opening to get back into the rural zone. We walked along a stretch of river jutting into the rural zone, but was back onto OJR before long, turned back by a lack of openings to any promising tracks. After another small loop into thick vegetation, we got back out to OJR, and eventually reached the environs of the old Jurong School. There is a major trail in from here, and we did a nice loop into the rural area again, before heading out back to OJR, got underneath the Hong Kah flyover, continued on the forsaken stretch of OJR that runs along side JurongWest Ave 2. Vegetation has claimed half of the breadth of this short stretch of road, and the woods on the right beckons to be explored. This stretch of land may well be the old site of Bulim cemetery, although nobody is quite sure of that. We ended up in Boon Lay Hawker Centre for well deserved Power Nasi Lemak. THe weather held and was divine to us this lovely saturday morning.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gunung Kutu

Gunung Kutu, Titiwangsa Mountain Range/Selangor, Malaysia

Date: 16th Oct. 2011
Summit: ~1080m
Trailhead altitude: ~260m
Distance, Out and Back roundtrip: 13.2km

Monetarium Auction 8.

Monetarium Auction 8, Oct. 14th 2011.

I went to a coin auction and bidded for the first time. The auction, held at one of the small function rooms in Marina Mandarin Hotel, is an interesting affair. It is like a club for old uncles, mostly in their fifties. Hokkien seems to be the major language there. The auctioneer was a calm and collected man, with a lot of good sense and humour. Occasionally, the auction routine will be broken by someone's mobile phone ringing. Sometimes, an uncle will even talk (loudly) on the phone, seriously discrupting the proceedings. There would be jeers from the others, and at one point, another irate uncle will be demanding that the talk-on-the-phone uncle be thrown out. Mr Auctioneer will always put out a smile, asked everybody to relax, let the talk-on-the-phone uncle finish his conversation, and reminding people not to get worked up take the fun out of the auction. 
The auction had a huge section on Chinese silver coins, many of them going at sky high price. For the old Ching dynasty and early republic era coins, I could understand the prices for their exquisite beauty and historical values. What befuddles me are the contemporary, mostly Panda themed coins going at crazy prices. This lead someone from the audience to remark that 'these pandas eat meat', instead of bamboo.
I had my eyes on a 1662 Charles II crown (GF grade), and when finally the item came out for the hammer, I gingerly lift up the bidding card that I have. The competition was more than I had expected. The coin finally went for $280 to another bidder. The second coin that I was interested in was a Spanish colonial era Mexico 1756MM columnarios. This time round, there were no competitors, and there, I won my first live auction item. More about this coin later.

Lot no. 360. Mexico 1756MM 8 Reales.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Woodcutter's trail - Seletar Reservoir - Woodcutter's trail

Date: 2nd Oct 2011
Distance: 15.7km

The original plan was to tag along TS Chua led SANL trek of the woodcutter's trail for half the way and then branched off to Seletar reservoir. However I woke up late and didn't hit the trail until 9am. After some chasing and back tracking, I caught up with the main group at the first stream crossing. I then made off on a side trail to see if I could reach one of the finger tips of Upper Peirce reservoir. Failing that, I went along a trail that seems to run parallel to the main Woodcutter's trail. The trail finally leads onto a crossroad with the main Woodcutter's. Across the junction is the side trail that runs north to Seletar reservoir. The trail leads up to a hill with the summit marked by a couple of big rocks, one of which had paint writing 'Half Cow' in chinese characters. The trail finally leads to the shore of Seletar reservoir. Nearby, another trail begins that hugs the Seletar reservoir shoreline. Sadly, this trail is litterful. If not for the litter, this would have been an extremely pleasant trail. I followed the trail to the first finger tip before bashing my way back to the Woodcutter's main trail, and subsequently back tracking to my car at Bukit Gombak.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

1973 Singapore Silver Coins

The two silver coins that Singapore issued in 1973

1973 Singapore 5 dollars (commermorative), KM#10, 25.000g, 0.5000Ag, 0.4019oz. Mintage: 250,000

The reverse of this coin features the National Stadium. Officially opened in 1973, it hosted the 7th South East Asia Peninsula (SEAP) games that same year. The coin was issued to commemorate these events. Through the years, many Singaporeans have grown to love the national stadium, watching national day parades or watching the national soccer team truimph in Malaysia Cup matches. If there are any buildings that most Singaporeans my age (give and take ten years) can identify with, this must be one of them. Sadly, it was demolished earlier this year.  The six rings above the stadium represent the six founding member nations of the SEAP games.

1973 Singapore 10 dollars, KM#9.2, 31.100g, 0.9000Ag, 0.8999oz. Mintage: 5,000 (PROOF).

The website of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) describe this coin's design as ‘a local sea eagle’From what i know, there is only one kind of sea eagle in Singapore, and that is the white bellied sea eagle, Haliaeetus leucogaster, the largest bird of prey here. The obverse depicts the Singapore coat of arm while the reverse depicts a sea eagle in a landing poise. For this proof coin, the eagle and the coat of arm are in matte finishing while the rest of the coin is clear shiny silver. This coin could have become The Classic Singapore coin with the eagle as the centerpiece. However, i must say that the eagle is a bit of a let down, being not really lifelike and looking a bit cartoonish and amateurish. Still, I think I will eventually grow to love this coin. This particular proof coin that I have has serial number 4255. I got it from a Singapore seller through ebay. I later got another proof coin from a local coin shop, and amazingly, it has a serial number of 4254! 

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Napoleonic Coins

I started coin collecting 'seriously' not too long time ago, and decided that I will concentrate on collecting crown/dollar size silver coins, especially those with significant historical background behind it. Here are two of my coins from the Napoleonic age. I have always been fascinated with the Napoleonic era. Napoleon is a bit of a contradiction. A tyrant who would probably be tried as a war criminal by the mores of the 20th/21st century, is imbued today with a majestic aura instead. The Napoleonic age ushered in a different age that ultimately results in modern Europe. However, the empire that Napoleon acquired has a medieval feel to it, with him parceling out kingdoms and principalities to his family members and cronies. I intend to collect the silver coins of the Napoleon empire Inc. and its subsidiary, and here are some starters:

1808A (Paris Mint), 5 franc, 1st French Empire, KM#686.1, 25.000 g (24.943g), 0.9000 Ag, 0.7234 oz. Mintage: 6.462.000.
Obverse: Bust of Napoleon. NAPOLEON EMPEREUR

I got this coin from ebay. It dates from 1808 and has the most common mintmark (A: Paris).1808 was four years after Napoleon crowned himsef emperor of the french and three years after his spectacular victory at Austerlitz. Napoleon, if not at his zenith, was at the summit plateau of his reign, still four years before his disastrous march into Russia.
The weight of the coin is also historically interesting. The french has decreed that the Franc would be defined as coin of 0.9 Ag of a 5g weight, and thus making 5 F weighing 25g with 0.9 silver purity. This denomination was called the Geminal Franc. This was a very early usage of the metric system, the measurement system that is universally in place today.
My first impression upon beholding the coin was that it seems too new and modern to be a coin that is more than two centuries old. I did not know that the coins 200 years ago have edges carved with lettering already. The coin gave a crisp silvery hum when tapped. Its perfectly circular. It was so unlike the spanish colonial silvers of similar era that I have, which seems primitive and crude compared to this coin. The bust is distinctly Napoleon, with his bulging eye and the reverse is of a simple design, with a all too common laurel wreath surrounding the coin's denomination. The coin has been cleaned before, but the features are sharp and clear. The original tone can be discerned from spaces in the alphabets of the lettering. I would think that this coin is an XF grade.

1809AI, Spain 20 real de vellon, KM#551.2, 27.080(26.256g), 0.9030Ag, 0.7863 oz. Mintage: 700.000
Obverse: Bust of Joseph Bonaparte. IOSEPH · NAP DEI · GRATIA · 1809 ·
Reverse: HISPANIARUM ET IND · REX. M^ · A · I . 20 R (King of Spain and the Indies, Madrid Mint, Assayers initials A.I.)

I got this coin during a recent trip to Madrid, at a shop in Plaza Mayor. Joseph Bonaparte was installed as King by his brother in 1808 and he had an uneasy reign till 1813 when the french were finally booted out. The denomination is in real de vellón introduced in 1808, which was issued in parallel with the usual real de plata fuerte till 1850 when the latter real is discontinued. This coin is from the Madrid mint. The coat of arm on the reverse depicts, from left top in a clockwise manner, Castille, Leon, Navarre, The Indies (new world), Granada and Aragon, with a Napoleonic eagle in the middle to denote Joseph’s House of Bonaparte.The condition of the coin is not great. The numismatist who sold me the coin, Fernando P. Segarra, gives it a MBC (muy bien conservation) which is equivalent to a VF. It has a big cavity in the reverse side. This defect was in the original planchet. The edges are very well worn.
One interesting, and a bit worrying feature, is that there is no dot behind the R on the obverse (the 'R' of the 20 R denomination). Of almost all the pictures of the 20R coins that I came across, all of them has a dot after the R. Although there is an item in an auction, also from 1809, that looks exactly the same as this present coin, which gives me some confidence that this coin is not a fake. Still it bugs me, is this a fake or just a variation? and why only in 1809?
A Similar coin here: auction lot 0563